Tuesday, September 30, 2008

When You Are Proud To Be Told Your Roots Are Showing

I got this idea from Michelle at Bleeding Espresso where she did her version of George Ella Lyon's poem. Here is mine:


Where I'm From

(my maternal grandmother at Bronx Beach, June 1946)

I am from neighborhoods with a front stoop, gold Cadillacs and singing ice cream trucks; Locatelli cheese and The Feast of San Gennaro.

I am from a beautiful two-story white house on a hill, surrounded by forsythia and lilac bushes, overlooking the lush landscape of New York State; a house filled with the sounds of Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis, the taste of Italian pastries from
DeFilippis Bakery after church on Sunday and the smells of sauteed garlic.

I am from the Muscadine grape arbor in our Bronx backyard, filled with grapes so fragrant, you would smell them before seeing the vines, the rock wall at my home in the country that my grandfather built with strong hands, placed stone by stone, and the fresh cut grass that clung to the mower blades as we rode across the vast expanse of green; the lawn our parents always wanted us to have.

I am from gravy on Sunday, women in the kitchen and men in the living room, talking loud and stealing freshly fried meatballs made by Aunt Jennie. I am from Michael James, Saverio Lorenzo and Marie Antoinette.

I am from those who gave more than they had and others who embraced after too many years had passed without seeing your face. I am from "Oooooh, you put on some weight." and "Eat something, you look so skinny." From "talk lower and slower" and "don't cry, it will grow back" (my grandfather was a barber).

I am from the
Bishop of Rome, the Eucharist and the Hail Mary's full of Grace to attendance now only for weddings and funerals. I am from tenets I don't remember to the Virgin Mary who looms everywhere. I remember the basics, but have generally eschewed the specifics. I believe in many religious pursuits and the freedom for those to practice them at will.

I’m from the Bronx and from across the Atlantic. From two opposing shores: one in Bari, in the heel of the boot and the other, directly across, in the city of Naples. I am from Gnocchi, "water mozzarella" (
Mozzarella di Bufala) and finocchio.

From the grandfather who wielded silver scissors at his very own shop on Tremont Avenue in the Bronx, cutting the hair of grandson and granddaughter alike, from my Poppy who played the guitar with callused fingers that glided smoothly across the strings, but who also worked as a welder for the City of New York, his heavy welding helmet making his neck muscles thicker as the years went on, and from the aunt who made trees out of money and licorice, creating gifts never to be found in any store no matter how hard you looked.

I am from the bevy of albums collecting too much dust, the 8mm film of the home movies that hold my family in silent moving images, the photographs developed by the hand of my grandfather and the paintings done with the stroke of a brush by my mother. The blanket crocheted by my mother's hand, the magnifying glass wrapped by my Poppy with the blue electrical tape from his toolbox, the guitar picks belonging to my father, the race car picture drawn by my brother, the Madame Alexander doll given to me by my Godmother and the sewing machine belonging to my Nanny.

There is not one of these items that do not flood my mind with memories. I am often back in those moments, in that very day. It is so clear to me, so vivid and so present. Lately, I feel a strong need for re-creation. To make sure they do not fade; are not lost.

I am from these people and those days that will never live again, but I am also from a strong memory and desire to keep them alive. This is who I am. This is where I'm from.

These are the roots of my tree.


Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

Gorgeous, beautiful, perfect. It's always amazing to me that such a short poem can tell us so much about a person; I feel the same as you--that the memories are so close and so vivid and yet I'm afraid they'll somehow fade away. Here's to our preserving them any and every way we can!

And happy belated birthday!!!!!!!

Gil said...

What a great story. Funny thing is that my Father's family lived on Crotona Ave. & 180th Street in the Bronx. My Grandfather was also a barber and always had his "barber bag" with him, with a wooden spoon or two sticking out, when he visited us in CT. I remember Mass at Our Lady of Fatima Church and their Festa. Also, my Grandfather always took us kids to the Bronx Zoo, a few blocks from the apartment, to teach us the wonders of nature and get us out of the small apartment for a few hours. I haven't been to that part of the Bronx in about 10 years and I think that my wife and I are due for a trip.

I take it that Bronx Beach is what is now referred to as Orchard Beach. I don't ever remember going there but due remember Bungalow Town and South Beach on Staten Island from the 50's. Also, I still visit City Island as often as I can for clams and oysters on the half-shell. I use JFK rather than Boston just so I can hit City Island. I know I could just get seafood in a few miles from where I live, but it is not the same.

Jeni said...

Been reading your blog for a while now -enjoying your words but I don't think I've commented before. However, reading this post -so beautiful, so poignant and also -regardless of where one's roots lie, the feelings, the memories of family, days long since passed, people long gone from one's life, holds true in just about all of us. Just that very few can put it out here with such elegance as you did! Thanks for making me think of my own roots, remembering so many people important to me and who I try to keep alive today not just in my mind but to share those memories with my kids and grandkids now too so they can feel like they knew them just a little bit anyway.

Gil said...

Update. They lived on Crotona Ave near 188th street and it was Our Lady of Mt. Carmel RC Church!

TNelson said...

The poem is beautifully written and your grandmother a stunning looking woman!


The Daily Rant said...

Michelle: Thanks - both for the idea to write this and the birthday wishes!

Gil: The Bronx Zoo was right around the corner from my grandparents house! We used to go there all the time! I once heard that it was one of the finest zoos in the country! And yes, I believe Bronx Beach is now Orchard Beach - I think some old timers still call it Bronx Beach though. We used to go to Orchard Beach as kids too. As for City Island - I was there about two years ago and ate at The City Island Lobster House (www.cilobsterhouse.com). My Aunt and Uncle are regular's at Artie's (www.artiesofcityisland.com), although I haven't been there yet. Next time!

Jeni: Thank you for your comment. It's very important to me to keep it all alive - and pass the memories on!

Trish: Thank you, and I think she was pretty stunning too!! And only 4'11" tall! LOL

Don Olney said...

Wow. I love you everyday, but today you are absolutely perfect! Thank you for all you share with us!

Anonymous said...

Ok, that just simply kicks ass. Thanks

Anonymous said...

I loved this.............Beautiful!

Real Live Lesbian said...

What a perfect tribute! And I love that pic!

Texas Trucker said...

You had an intriguing upbringing... and lyrically described to boot. I'd like to try this as a writing exercise since mine likely wouldn't be as interesting for publishing!

MAR said...

You continue to amaze me and enchant me my very talented beautiful baby girl.